By Deb Matlock
Nature connection means many things and each of us likely has our own ideas and experiences that inform our sense of this connection. Perhaps we grew up on a farm or near the ocean. Others of us may have experienced a childhood filled with free time outdoors and endless time to play and explore. The opposite experience may be true for someone else. Perhaps they lived many floors above the ground and had an incredible view of the birds flying outside their window. Whatever our individual story, whatever our experience, our sense of personal nature connection is truly that; personal. There is no right or wrong way to explore this relationship and it is one that can ebb and flow throughout the days of our lives.
Another interesting consideration when speaking of nature connection is one of semantics. Is nature connection even possible? If we, as human animals, are intricately a part of nature…which we most definitely are given that we eat, breathe, and drink elements of the natural world every day, taking in and giving out just as every other natural being…what does it really mean to explore our sense of connection to nature. If we are nature, aren’t we always “connected?” Isn’t it impossible to be disconnected?
I feel that developing our sense of connection to nature is one of awareness, openness, and practice. Yes, as natural beings, we are deeply connected to life around us all the time. However, we may not be deeply aware of this connection and that is the area that excites me personally and professionally. How do we cultivate this connection and consciously increase our awareness and our sense of ourselves as ecological beings?
One way to explore this is to consider developing and cultivating our own sense of nature connection as a sacred act. Adding a sense of the sacred to our nature connection work can be truly transformative. Sacred nature connection can become a part of our daily lives, enriching our thoughts and ideas as well as deepening our sense of place and familiarity with the wild and natural world in which we live, each, and breathe each day.
So, what then is sacred nature connection? What does it entail and how do we practice it? While the truest answers to those questions must come from deep within each of us, below I offer some inspiration from my own journey with these questions. In my mind, sacred nature connection includes the following attributes:
- Empathy – As we are learning about the world around us and exploring the places where we live, can we also cultivate a sense of empathy for all other beings? The earthworm on the sidewalk after a rain, or the hawk on the telephone pole watching a field be plowed over for development are having their own experience and if we take notice, empathize, and perhaps even ask what can we do to help, the world might well become a more loving and harmonious place.
- Compassion – Following the note about empathy, can we continually develop within ourselves a sense of service for the world and an awareness and honoring of the feelings and emotions we experience as we move through our lives? Compassion, it seems to me, is the foundation of so many beautiful acts set forth by people seeking to benefit the whole. Certainly, allowing compassion to be alive and well in our nature connection work seems important and can help guide us to sacred and authentic acts of service.
- Seeing ourselves as part of a large web of life– The more I personally explore my own sense of connection to nature, the more I can clearly see that while humans have certainly established ourselves as dominant beings on this earth, we are more truly deeply and intimately reliant upon life in ways that cannot be argued. If we see ourselves as merely dancers in a vast choreography, or members of a complex web of beings equal in value, perhaps we can and will move forward on this earth in a way that is considerate, compassionate, and sensitive to the realities of other beings as well.
- Allow a sense of spiritual connection – As we explore our own relationships with nature and all her many beings, we may well find ourselves asking deep questions about life and death, staring in ecstatic awe at the beauty of a flower, or feeling profoundly humble at the base of a mountain. These moments can be transformational if we allow them to permeate our hearts and souls and stir use deeply. I have encountered countless people over the years who had experienced some event or moment in the natural world and were trying to convince themselves it did not have meaning even if they felt differently. Let us instead honor these moments of deep connection and awareness and let them inform our spiritual path if we so choose.
- Open ourselves to communication with nature – We may have been told that we cannot communicate with other species. We may even believe this ourselves. However, if we open ourselves to the possibility that inter-species communication can and does happen, how might we experience our sense of nature connection and our place within this amazing world? As part of a sacred nature connection practice, I try to remain open and available for any sort of communication whether that be audible, sensory, visual, etc. Who knows what we might learn with our senses, hearts, and minds open.
- Invite awe– So often, nature connection work includes time outdoors, exploring our senses, naming plants and animals, and other particularly important and inspiring pursuits. In addition to those activities, I feel that nature connection, in its most sacred form, also includes the open admission and permission to feel awe at and with this incredible world. Animals migrating over miles, sunflowers turning to face the sun, a small seed becoming a large plant – miracles and awe-inspiring moments comprise this world everywhere we look. If we are open to awe, we will see it and appreciate it everywhere. In my mind, this is a very prominent component of sacred nature connection.
- Cultivate respect – Sacred nature connection asks of us to respect and consider the experiences of others. When we respect that a birds needs to sleep undisturbed to preserve the energy to survive the night, or that deer on a trail need to be left alone and not hassled by dogs running them around, we not only allow ourselves to see and appreciate the experience of these beings, but we also will move in this world in a more deliberate and considerate way. Nature is not here for us to use, play with, etc., but is rather the community of beings of which we are a part. Treading lightly and considering our every action is indeed a fundamental component of sacred nature connection.
- Embrace and honor wildness – In a world where wildness is often relegated to a place of dishonor, and considered unruly or unseemly, wildness both in concept and reality needs to be acknowledges and celebrated. Wildness is the urge in the male elk to protect his harem each fall. Wildness is the robin furiously hunting for worms after a spring snow. Wildness is the rhythm in our hearts that propels us outdoors and into a deeper connection with life. Wildness is life and is truly the essence of sacred nature connection. In wildness, we will find ourselves and our place in the world.
The above list is by no means complete. The journey into sacred nature connection is ongoing, personal, dynamic, and wild. My hope for myself and all of you is that this list continues to grow, expand, and change as we journey through our precious and sacred time on this precious and sacred planet we call earth.
Deb Matlock grew up in the mountains of Colorado and is deeply committed to nurturing the connection between people, animals, earth, and spirit. She has spent twenty-five years working as a professional environmental and humane educator and naturalist. Additionally, Deb offers shamanic-style spiritual guidance, animal communication, nature connection workshops, and retreats through her business, Wild Rhythms. She is passionate about helping people find connection and deep spiritual meaning in their lives and in the places where they live. Deb holds a Master of Arts in Environmental Education from Prescott College and is pursuing her doctoral degree in environmental studies at Antioch University New England.
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